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Between Acceptance And Rage - Music Week, 20th September 2013

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Title: Between Acceptance And Rage
Publication: Music Week
Date: Friday 20th September 2103
Writer: Dave Roberts
Photos: Alex Lake

MusicWeek200913 (1).jpg MusicWeek200913 (2).jpg MusicWeek200913 (3).jpg

It's the key line from the Manic Street Preachers' new album, Rewind The Film, a record that sees the former generation terrorists documenting the demise of certainty and the fading of the fire. It is personal, poetic, elegiac and, ironically, a radical departure.

The Manic Street Preachers burst into the public consciousness just over 20 years ago, a (new art) riot of slogans and cheekbones, riffs and rouge or, to use their own words, a mess of eyeliner and spray paint.

They were provocative, confrontational, smart, brave and funny. They stood out. A lot of new bands are gobby, precious few are articulate. Pretty much all of them have ambition, not many have a manifesto.

The Manic Street Preachers needed to be noticed and demanded to be heard. They were instantly urgent, seemingly panicked about running out of time, even from day one, always desperate: desperate to communicate, to say things they thought had to be said, to shine the spotlight on their heroes and influences, to make people know what they knew and feel what they felt. And to shock. "I laughed when Lennon got shot" runs the most famous line in their breakthrough single, Motown Junk (released on Heavenly in 1991).

Now they are in their forties (older than Lennon ever was). They are family men. They are veterans. They are survivors. And they are, possibly prompted by 2012's retrospective activity based around the 20th anniversary of Generation Terrorists, reflecting on their lives, their careers and their place in the modern world.

That mood of uncertainly coupled with the process of reassessing and redefining who you are is captured perfectly and movingly on Rewind The Film, the band's 11th studio album, released this week on Columbia.

Musically it is the Manics' most radical shiftsince 1994's abrasive Holy Bible rubbed up against 1993's burnished Gold Against The Soul. There is, for instance, only one track that features James' electric guitar, and standout vocal guest turns from Richard Hawley, Lucy Rose and Cate Le Bon also add texture.

The first line of album opener, This Sullen Welsh Heart, is 'I don't want my children to grow up like me'. That's a decent dollop of fear and self-loathing right there; 11 syllables in and straight away you know that, unlike so many others, they haven't drafted Nile Rodgers and Pharrell in on 'vibes'.

Nicky Wire has written the words to all but one of the tracks (Anthem for a Lost Cause is written by James Dean Bradfield) and says: "A useful comparison is with Postcards, because that was nostalgic in a sense of it being a celebration and declaration of the fact we could still do it, we were giving it one last shot. Whereas Rewind The Film is saying that the whole thing has been brilliant, tragic, uplifting, incredible, but I don't know if we can do it anymore."

By "it", he means "massive, anthemic, guitar-laden radio hits". And what's brought on that realisation? "Just crippling fucking tiredness [laughs]. No, I actually think it's a combination of a few things: the body getting old, having kids, the music business changing, and me becoming quite drained with that, which I never have been before. Anyone who knows me knows I love the whole business, the stats, the charts [Music Week is delighted to discover that Wire is a fully paid up subscriber], the artwork, working closely with the product managers, all that boring stuff [Music Week is confident he doesn't mean Music Week], I've loved it. But it's just become a bit bewildering.

"We also lost our product manager at Sony, Jim Fletcher, who died two years ago. I was really close to him and he was really young. It was so sad and it just kick-started a lot of emotions and got me thinking about growing old with a bit of grace and dignity."

The mood of nostalgia was enhanced last year not only by the Generation Terrorists reissue, but by a very special one-off gig at the O2 where the band played all 38 of their singles. "That had an impact, definitely. When we walked off that stage it was pretty frightening actually, for us as a band. James wanted to get back to the studio straight away and move on, because we just knew we could never do that again.

"We'd been demoing stuff already, but after that night I could tell there was a slight sense of panic. 38 tracks, selling out 02, a whole career put out there. For us it was a one-shot deal and a bit of a full-stop."

It deserved an exclamation mark. The Manics' career has been incendiary and incredible. As Wire puts it: "On a human level there's been a lot of heartache. From Philip [Hall, their original manager] dying [in 1993] to Richey disappearing and then the last two years have been riddled with funerals and illness... but in terms of the band, no, it's been one of the greatest rides anyone could ever have."

Rewind The Film isn't the end of that journey, but it is a fork in the road, as evidenced by some key lyrics, starting with that Vengaboys tribute on track one...

"I don't want my children to grow up like me"

It's a supremely bleak opening statement. How do you mean it and how much do you mean it?

I just don't want them to grow up with my grain of sourness and bitterness and nastiness. The constant questioning. I want them to be a little bit more laid back.

That's what's driven me, unfortunately: the hatred and the nasty side. The desire to keep proving yourself, it's an integral part of all four of us. There's a lot of spite in me, which is fine when you're 20, 25 or whatever, but I'd rather not pass that gene on.

"How I hate middle age/In between acceptance and rage"

Is that an irreversible journey, towards acceptance? And if so will you eventually be watching Jeremy Clarkson and find yourself nodding along, saying, 'You know what, he's got a point...'?

That's a scary thought. Maybe I could be a bit more Tony Benn than Jeremy Clarkson. But yes, that irreversible decline, it frightens me. I've put so much effort into the band: lyrics, interviews, music, artwork, I've really enjoyed it. I've basically comanaged the band for 20-odd years, and that's no disrespect to Martin [Hall, the band's manager], because we've always stayed with him and we love him, but that's just my nature. I just don't find myself with the mental capacity or drive.

When I'm 50 I probably won't give a fuck at all, I will be happy to be Marlon Brando, put on 10 stone, live in a nappy and shit myself all day, but it's this in between state... I don't know, I still love going on stage and living the rock n roll dream, coming offdripping in make-up and glitter, but how do you marry that with doing the school run the next morning?

Especially if the bones ache...

And they do ache. They really fucking ache.

"There is too much heartache in the nothing of the now"

What is absent? Is it the sheer intensity of feeling you experience when you're young?

Yes, but there's also fear as well, you feel less and fear more when you get older. As a parent, as someone who is ageing, surrounded by more illness and funerals and what have you.

It's also about the absence of anyone else, any young bands, saying anything.

If you were a young smart working class political band coming through now, would you deliberately and loudly target the Manic Street Preachers as dinosaurs?

Absolutely! It's like famously when the Stone Roses got offered a Rolling Stones tour and they said they didn't want to support those boring old farts, which was great.

Whether they mean it or not, right?

Of course! We all know we love them really, but come on, someone say something! Most bands seem more likely to go to a tea party at Buckingham Palace than say anything even remotely fucking nasty. It feels like no one's replaced us. In the 90s there was a changing of the guard, with us, Radiohead, Blur, Massive Attack, Oasis or whoever, but now...

There was a moment at The Ivors recently, when The Maccabees won an award, and the host called up to the stage Orlando Weeks, Hugo White, Felix White and Rupert Jarvis. Is that a roll call that troubles you?

It does, although I've got nothing against The Maccabees, I like them. But like many avenues, the avenue for a working class guitar band is being closed off, they're being kettled in. It's hard for young bands anyway, but if you've got nothing behind you it's really hard.

That's why I've got a lot of respect for this post- Dizzee wave of urban artists, young working class kids finding a way to break out. I think Plan B is a brave artist, and it's great that when he had a platform, he used it, he really tried to say something. I like that record [Ill Manors] because it's confused, it's angry, it's an explosion.

When you're 'replaced' by people who otherwise would have gone into accountancy, then it's not going to mean as much to them, not as much as it meant to us anyway. And the music will inevitably be a bit bland.

I don't hate bands on a class divide, I just want something... I want to hear fingertips scraping, I want desperation, I want a band that means it so much.

And I want a band that doesn't give a fuck about their audience. Everyone's so obsessed these days with saying how great their fans are, and that's not a healthy situation. All my favourite bands had contempt for pretty much everything.

I'm not saying we're like that now, because we can't be. You've got to feel it for real, which you do when you're young, and which we did, like when we went on stage at Glastonbury and alienated an entire generation.

And on Stay Beautiful, when you sang 'Don't fall in love, cos we hate you still'...

And that's when we didn't even have any fans yet, it was a pre-emptive warning! That was the genius of Richey: we're the only band to have written our own myth and then lived it. It was slightly harrowing at times, but it was amazing.

"Now I'm a busted flush/I am waiting for the night to come"

Is that really how you feel? Like you've got nothing left to give?

I don't know, I think I still feel the same things, but I'm not sure I'm capable of following through. It'd be a fucking help if Richey was still around to be honest, he always had a lot of fight in him and we always fed off each other.

Without Richey, and with the onset of middle age, how hard is it to care as much, and to be certain about things?

It's the certainty thing that's difficult, because whatever issue comes up, you realise there are no fucking answers. The world was more black and white, or seemed so to us, when we were young. We meant everything we said. We were sure of it and sure of ourselves.

"So sick and tired of being 4 Real"

The line refers to one of the most famous moments in the Manics' iconography, when Richey, determined to convince the NME's Steve Lamacq of their credibility, used a razor blade to carve 4 Real into his own arm.

Do you feel pinned down by certain events and images like that?

Yeah, definitely. Deep down I think this is probably the best collection of lyrics I've ever written, in terms of truth and poetry, but I know I'll always to some extent be known as the guy who wears a dress, uses Dysons, smashes his guitar up, can't play, whatever. And I don't mind, because I'm a rock historian myself and I know that cliché is really important in rock n roll. But we've come back with a single James is barely on, that's six-and-a-half minutes long, from an album that hardly features an electric guitar...

I love you so won't you please come home / It's been so long but I can't let go

The track is half love-letter/half personal plea to Richey, 18 years after the guitarist, lyricist and Wire's soul mate disappeared. And personal is very much the word. As Holy as the Soil is from the heart and almost unbearably moving.

That must have been a very hard lyric to write...

It's about as personal as I'm ever going to get, certainly. I was dancing round the houses a bit, and then I got that phrase, 'I love you so won't you please come home', and that seemed to say it all, so rather than try and be oblique I just went with it.

I guess most of the time, just through the demands of life, you keep things hidden, but this is a glimpse of how much it still hurts.

It is, yeah. And it's about him as a son and a brother as well as our friend. His sister, Rachel, has done so much brilliant work, his Dad passed away a year or so ago and I was at that funeral. I don't know, sometimes I look at a picture of him and think what an amazing rock star to have around. There's a massive gap there. He'd be like an intellectual and political version of Lady GaGa - but prettier.

Do you miss the dynamic of working with him - miss getting his approval or even his criticism?

Two parts, really. The first is simply writing together. We wrote Motorcycle sitting at a desk in Swansea Uni. I've still got that draft. I know guitarists swap riffs, but we were swapping lines. A lot of the first album was like that.

And I also miss sharing what we liked, what we were listening to, what we were watching, what we were reading - and absorbing it all into our writing.

"I'm as tired as John Lennon sang"

Not the floweriest phrase on the album, but significant because it is the second name check for Lennon in the Manics' songbook. The first, of course, being 'I laughed when Lennon got shot', from the breathless early salvo that was Motown Junk.

How do you feel looking back on that first Lennon line and the young men who wrote it?

[Laughs] Well, I'm not putting the blame elsewhere, but that was one of Richey's. I wore it like a badge of honour though, like fucking yeah, bring it on.

Did you say it because you absolutely couldn't and shouldn't say that?

Exactly, yes. In 1977 [the song not the year (although, yes, the year as well)] Joe Strummer sang 'No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones' and we were searching for our version of that line, and that was how it manifested itself - albeit in a slightly nastier way.

This new line is... well, it isn't me redressing the balance as such, but that song, I'm So Tired, is a great record and it does sum up that crippling, jet-lagged feeling, so we were happy to drop his name one more time, a bit more respectfully this time.

"The old boy network won the war again"

The album ends with a flash of fire in the eyes and vim in the veins. 30-Year War is a tirade against the brutality of Thatcherism and the inequity of today. It's also a taster for a new Manics album due next year, tentatively titled Futurology.

The original plan was to record a wider selection of songs, but in the process the band realised they were two very distinct sets.

The acoustic, contemplative introspection was captured on Rewind The Film. and if 30-Year War is a clue, then the next record will be spikier, louder, feistier and, quite possibly, a glorious contradiction after RTF's partial white flag.

So, how did this one sneak on the record?

I actually didn't want to give it to James, because the idea of this album is that the lyrics are quite self critical and reflective - draped in this beautiful music.

But James looked at it and said it had to be on there, he thought it was one of the best things he'd read, in political terms, since Tolerate.

It was inspired not by Thatcher, but by Thatcherism. I wrote it before she died and she was gone to me decades ago anyway. I lived through the shit she did to my community.

It's about how no one has the energy to even face these issues. The fucking leader of the Labour party doesn't even want to face these issues, so who's going to do anything? He's the most insipid opposition leader, of either side, that I can remember.

It was problematic because we couldn't get it to work in the context of this album but then we realised we didn't have to, it could just be a bridge to the next one...